Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Time Is Now

I found this picture on facebook today, and felt it was the perfect way of describing my life now:

Excuses are easy.  You can convince yourself that you don't have the time, money, energy, or skills to do something.  And as Henry Ford mentioned, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right."  We all have passions, hopes, and desires, but it can be hard to find the strength to act upon them.  To live the life you want, the life that's important to you.

Tomorrow morning I'm heading to the Dominican Republic on a service learning trip.  We'll be learning about the healthcare system and challenges faced by people living there.  We'll be building gardens and installing water filtration systems for families impacted by HIV/AIDS, and will be providing nutrition education lectures and other services to promote health and well being.  As an MPH student, it is thrilling to be able to do something with my degree, to go out into the world and really make a difference.  I've traveled before but have never felt that I've contributed anything significant.  I've always been interested in different cultures and lifestyles but have never had the opportunity to truly step out of my comfort zone and learn firsthand about life outside of my safety bubble.  This is my chance.  Tomorrow I'm fulfilling a dream.  I'm living the life I want.  It's definitely scary.  There will be challenges.  But I know that the experience will enrich me and help me grow as a person.  Instead of saying I'd like to help out "someday," I'm doing something "now."

It can take time to find the strength within yourself.  To find your passions and follow that inner drive.  One of the hardest things in life is to live in the present moment.  It's something I've struggled with for a long time.  Valerie Harper asks, "If you're not here now, where the hell are you?"  She also says, "Don't let your fear today rob you of a fun life."  

Move past the things that held you back in the past.  Don't fret about what's to come in the future.  Enjoy life now and do the things that are important to you.

I'm pretty sure I watched The Music Man as a kid, but I hardly remember it.  That said, after finding this quote, it's definitely on my list of films to watch.  I'll leave you with this:

"You pile up enough tomorrows, and you'll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.  I don't know about you, but I'd like to make today worth remembering."

Friday, March 8, 2013

To Valerie

My dad called me Wednesday afternoon to break the news about Valerie Harper's diagnosis.  It took a few minutes for it to actually sink in.  And then it hit me.  She was all I could think about for the rest of the day, and in the days since.  It usually takes a lot to affect me, but Valerie is special.  She's my girl.

I was first introduced to Valerie's brilliance when I started watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the fall of 2010, my junior year of college.  My biggest regret is that I didn't start watching sooner.  I'm a child of the past; my favorite music and television shows pretty much all come from the '60s, '70s, and '80s.  So while Nick @ Nite, TV Land, and DVDs had given me a good foundation, MTM had slipped under the radar.  But that September my life changed.  I fell in love with the entire cast, but while Mary Richards was the show's star, Rhoda Morgenstern was my star.

It had always been hard for me to make friends, and I often felt on the outside in relationships I did have.  Sitcom characters became surrogate friends for me, and Rhoda was no exception.  Rhoda kept me company and made me feel less alone, not only that semester, but from then on.  She was my best pal that next semester when I was studying abroad in London and had a hard time fitting in with my group.  She was there for me when I struggled with my transition to graduate school and other life struggles last semester.  Rhoda was someone that I could identify with, someone I knew would understand me if she were a real person.  I have struggled with my body image.  Felt unsuccessful compared to others.  Have been unlucky in love.  Of course, Rhoda was more fashionable than I am, more street-smart and funny.  But we were both young Jewish girls from New York, hoping for something better in life but not being afraid to seize upon our desires.

I'm looking for an appropriate clip to aptly summarize my feelings for Rhoda, but the one I'm searching for must have been removed from YouTube.  So to paraphrase one of Valerie's comments in the MTM 20th Anniversary special, "Mary was the girl you wanted to be, Rhoda was the one you probably were, and Phyllis was the one you were afraid of becoming."  You know what, Valerie?  Rhoda was always the one I wanted to be.  I admired her big heart and her wonderful friendship with Mary.  She was spunky, she was gutsy, she was real.  She was vulnerable, yet strong.  And despite her insecurities, she was beautiful.  I suppose I identified with Rhoda in that way too; it's difficult to see yourself the way that your loved ones see you.

But Rhoda wasn't the only one I fell in love with; I was loved Valerie as well.  First of all, I loved that it never bothered her to be identified as Rhoda so many years after MTM and Rhoda had ended.  She was proud of her character.  She loved her just as much as her fans do.  And that made both Rhoda and Valerie all the more special.  Valerie was Rhoda and Rhoda was Valerie.

I loved learning more about the woman behind the character through interviews and other video clips.  It's a rarity for actors to be like the characters they portray in real life, but Valerie goes above and beyond Rhoda. She has even more heart, dynamism, and grace.  She is beautiful inside and out.    Like Rhoda, Valerie is also the kind of person I wish I could be friends with.

And in a way, I have been.  I've been fortunate enough to communicate with Valerie a few times via twitter. So many celebrities don't give you the time of day.  Valerie is a celebrity in another sense of the word; she is extraordinary because she is so human.  And she made the Rhoda-esque, often insecure me feel special.  She responded to my first tweet about how I joined twitter just so I could follow her.  Complimented me on my Rhoda costume for my first (and only) college Halloween party.  At our last exchange, I inquired if she had an address I could send fan mail to.  She said that with facebook and twitter, people could get in contact with her easily.  She's correct-yes, Valerie even accepted me as a friend on facebook.  I had asked that question, though, because I wanted to do what I am doing now; express how much her career has meant to me in something longer than 140 characters.  Maybe I'd be fortunate enough to get an autographed photo of her too.  I'm not a collector in the slightest, but to have tangible recognition from her would have meant the world to me.  But in her response, she did address me by my real name.  And that was enough.  I decided not to press further.

I was so excited to hear about Valerie's development and release of I, Rhoda.  What an honor to get an intimate look at the life of the woman behind the character I so admired.  For some reason, though, I didn't order the book right away.  I scolded myself for waiting so long, and eventually ordered it in late February.

On March 6, the day the news broke out, I, Rhoda appeared at my doorstep.  I had a feeling it would.   I needed that book then more than ever.  And here was Valerie comforting me during her time of need.  Just as she's been encouraging others to stay strong throughout this ordeal.  The more I read about her condition, the sadder I become, but I also become more inspired.  Reading Valerie's words, "Live the best life you can.  Be as healthy as possible," coaxed me to reevaluate my priorities, let the bad things slip away, and focus on what's most important.  Just as Rhoda gave me an outlet, a friend to turn to, Valerie continues to help me emerge from myself and strive to be the best person I can be.  Her courage and her strength inspire me more than words can say.

Valerie, thank you for the gifts you have given me through your acting and your humanity.  It is an honor to be your fan.  I'm excited to learn even more about you as I finish your memoir.  You are my inspiration.

Thanks, kid.



               My Rhoda costume, Halloween 2011

Sunday, March 3, 2013


"Behold the turtle.  He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out."  -James Bryant Conant

You only get out what you put in.  Whether your goal is to enact change on a grand scale or within yourself, it's important to remember that progress comes with effort.  Will Rodgers said that "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

Commit to action.  But don't stress over the length or difficulty of your journey.  The turtle takes as much time as he needs to get to where he needs to go, but the point is that he gets there eventually.  And you will too.  Just enjoy the process.  Every opportunity is a new learning experience.

Theodore Roosevelt said to "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."  Don't worry about what everyone else is doing; just concentrate on yourself.  And no matter how small, just do something.  All of those little somethings will eventually converge into big things.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

I am an ally

It's easy to be judgmental.  For me, for anyone.  Differences can be scary.  We are so used to what is familiar to us that we can equate differences with deviance, even immorality.  I'd like to think that as I get older, I am at least being more mindful to opinions and situations that differ from my own.  I am trying more and more to see people as people instead of as the sum of their choices and actions.

One of the most profound lessons I've learned in life comes from a friend from college.  We were both vegans when we met, but she has since gone back to vegetarianism.  We were hanging out one day, when she started eating candy corn, which contains eggs.  I was absolutely horrified.  I was a relatively new vegan at the time and definitely had a bit of a vegan-police mentality.  How could she skimp out on veganism?  It didn't seem moral to me.

She looked at me and said, "You know, you can be really judgmental sometimes."

That's all it took.  My world started to change.  I started to accept that I can't control other people, and that that's okay.  I have since adopted more of a live and let live policy; I'll respect your decisions if you respect mine.  And differences are what make us unique.  We are not "less than" others for carrying out "less desirable" behaviors, just different.

Going to college and emerging from my sheltered world has helped me become more accepting of others.  For example, I abhor cigarette smoke.  It's one of my biggest pet peeves.  And I used to equate smokers with the behavior: bad.  But then I made friends who smoked.  And I learned that not all smokers are disrespectful.  I will always loathe the habit, but people themselves are distinct from their habits.  People are people, warts and all.  It's not easy, but I am consistently striving to look past qualities that I disapprove of and embrace people for who they are.

But now I'd like to discuss something different.  I brought up my own struggles with acceptance to use as a baseline for this next topic.  I'd like to make it clear that my thoughts this topic have never been as judgmental as the previous examples.  However, it is a common source of controversy throughout our nation and around the world.  That issue is LGBTQ rights.

This topic is so vast that there is still so much that I am unfamiliar with.  I think it's a sensitive issue for many people.  Sometimes it's hard to know what to say about it, because I don't want to be offensive or speak out of line.

I think that for a long time, I embodied the quotes I mentioned in my previous post.  I was aware of the challenges the LGBTQ community faced but didn't see it as "my problem."  Society has conditioned us to fear being perceived as LGBTQ for identifying with members of that community.  This has occurred throughout history; it was terrifying for people to be perceived as a "Jew-lover" or a "N-lover."  We fear having our own identities being misread, and so we remain silent.

I am thankful that, through the years, I have made friends with members of the LGBTQ community.  While I wouldn't say I judged them in the past, I was definitely ignorant and afraid.  But as I mentioned earlier, people are people.  Live and let live.

Unfortunately, many do not see that.  There is still too much hatred.  We are moving in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.

I support equality.  I think people should have the freedom to live as they choose.  They are not "bad" for being different from the "norm."  They are people.

I was touched by this picture, originally posted by George Takei.  He asked facebook users to share it, to honor his husband Brad on his birthday:

And it clicked for me.  I am an ally.  I am not afraid to say that I support members of the LGBTQ community.  I am proud to call some of them my friends.

The following video was brought to my attention via Rose McGowan on twitter.  It is a beautiful testament of the power of love and acceptance.  I was touched by Donnie's story, and I wish him all the best.

Also, here's another beautiful story of a mother's love, courtesy of Katie Couric:

Choose acceptance.  Don't hate someone because they are different from you or because you disapprove of their thoughts, ideas, choices, actions, etc.  Try to understand where they are coming from and accept them for who they are as people.  People are people.

I am an ally.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Collective action

"Each snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty." -Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

Remaining silent has more consequences than people realize. It's easy to think that we are not individually responsible for things that go wrong, whether it relates to environmental issues, social turmoil, etc. However, we have a collective responsibility as human beings to stand up for what we believe in, instead of waiting for someone else to take the lead. This theme is echoed by a famous Holocaust-era quote by Martin Niemoller:

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me."

Take the bystander effect. Remaining silent can be just as detrimental as actually committing the action, because you are still allowing harm to occur.

You don't have to be the same as someone or something in order to support them. Not only because you would want them to do the same for you, but because it's the right thing.

Don't become trapped in a pattern of inactivity. Acknowledge your assets and understand that you are a part of something bigger than yourself.

And never think that your actions are insignificant. Every step is important, no matter how small. Everyone has something that they can contribute to the greater good. Instead of silently waiting for someone else to take the lead, why don't you go first? Instead of distancing yourself from the problems that concern you, be that one snowflake that acknowledges what is wrong and vows to do something about it. Your initiative will inspire others. Just as silence begets silence, speech begets speech. Find something worth talking about.


Nothing is sexier than a compassionate man.  To see animals as friends, as beings to cherish and to protect, is true beauty.  I hope I'm fortunate enough to share my life with someone like that someday.

Photo courtesy of the Mercy for Animals facebook page

Polar bears

Apparently today is International Polar Bear Day.  The World Wildlife Fund presents some valuable information about the importance of polar bears, threats to their survival, and how we can help them here.  Check it out!


Polar bear cub


Photos courtesy of World Wildlife Fund